Photos by Isaiah Singleton/The Atlanta Voice

Atlanta to Colombia: Afro business communities unite in Colombia

By Isaiah Singleton

CALI, Colombia – The Russell Innovative Center for Entrepreneurs (RICE) embarked on the first ever trade mission that connected Afro-American entrepreneurs from Atlanta with Afro-Colombian businesses and leaders. 

RICE took 20 Black metro Atlanta entrepreneurs to Cali, Colombia to participate in a monumental mission for one week on Aug. 13 through Aug. 20.  

In collaboration with the Atlanta Black Chambers, City of Atlanta and ProColombia, the mission was created to enhance economic development, relationships, and global opportunities for international investment into Colombia.  

“Embracing the spirit of Atlanta’s resilient Black businesses, we venture beyond borders to Colombia, driven by a shared vision of access, opportunity, and advancing business acumen, ” said Jay Bailey, president & CEO of RICE. “Just as our roots grow deep in the rich Southern soil, so shall our collaborations flourish on international grounds. Through this journey, we transcend barriers, turning cultural diversity into a wellspring of innovation, forging connections that enrich both sides of the equator.” 

Also, ProColombia, according to the organization’s President Carmen Caballero, works thoroughly to show the beauty of Colombia and their territories internationally.  

“We were pleased to welcome this trade mission in Cali and the Pacific region to show the participants our diversified exports and our unmatched investment opportunities,” Caballero said. “Colombia is the third most populous country in Latin America and has a dynamic internal market, making it the region’s fourth-largest economy. Undoubtedly, this trip has been a milestone in our relations with the United States”. 

Additionally, The Atlanta Voice was invited on the trade mission to get an in-person look at how RICE wants to expand, Afro-Colombian culture, and more.  

Why Cali? 

Santiago de Cali is the capital city of Colombia’s Valle del Cauca region. Its population totals around 2.4 million citizens, making Cali the third-largest city in the nation. It is the only region in the country with a network of seven intermediate cities with populations between 150,000 – 400,000 inhabitants. 

Thanks to its strategic position within Colombia, Valle del Cauca is the best location to serve the Colombian ‘Golden Triangle’ market (area between Medellín, Bogotá and Cali), which represents 67% of the GDP and 61% of the population.  

Valle del Cauca is one of the most industrialized regions in the country, including over 180 foreign companies from diverse sectors are established in the region. They contribute nearly 37% of the region’s exports and 12% of its domestic GDP. There are also more than 430 local companies, and hundreds of other small–to medium-size enterprises. It sustains the nation’s most diversified export basket, exporting 12.2% of the country’s non-mining goods. 

“Cali was selected as a hub for this initiative due to its vibrant Afro culture, rich biodiversity, and entrepreneurial spirit. Its unique blend of heritage and innovation aligns harmoniously with Atlanta’s values, making it an ideal partner for this historic venture,” said Colombia’s Ambassador to the United States, The Honorable Ambassador Luis Gilberto Murillo.  

The significance of the Colombia trade mission is to develop and foster relationships that position Atlanta as a global hub for commerce, innovation, culture and diplomacy. 

Why is this a monumental trade mission? 

According to Murillo, the trade mission to Cali and Colombia’s Pacific region originated from recognizing remarkable parallels between two geographically distant, yet culturally akin regions: The Pacific region and Atlanta.  

“This is indeed a monumental effort by public and private business organizations both in Colombia and in the United States,” said Murillo. “The shared values of innovation, diversity, and resilience served as the catalyst for this endeavor. This mission is crucial to harness the strengths of both regions, foster collaboration beyond trade, and emphasize our collective commitment to growth and development.” 

Expanding Cali’s Afro culture, communities, and businesses to the U.S. and reciprocally, Murillo said, holds “profound significance”. 

“It enriches both sides culturally, economically, and socially. This exchange promotes cross-cultural understanding, empowers our communities, and facilitates economic progress through diverse perspectives and innovative collaborations,” he said.  

Additionally, Murillo said the event is described as “monumental” because this event is historic due to its unprecedented nature.  

“It brings together Cali and Colombia’s vast pacific region with Atlanta. These regions are seemingly distant but deeply connected by shared values and aspirations. This trade mission signifies the power of unity, demonstrating how mutual goals can transcend geographical boundaries and shape a meaningful future partnership.” 

This mission sets a precedent for future partnerships, emphasizing the power of shared values and common goals. 

Murillo also said Cali’s aspirations for the trade mission are “multi-faceted”.  

“The city aims to foster economic growth by exploring new opportunities with Atlanta, leveraging technology and innovation. Moreover, it seeks to celebrate its rich cultural heritage internationally, promoting inclusivity and cross-cultural exchange,” he said.  

Atlanta Black Entrepreneurs Paving the Way forward  

Jennifer Barbosa of International Supply Partners, LLC said making black businesses from different markets and parts of the world aware of each other, opening discussion, and how to not only do business with each other, but also support one another in the expansion within the pan-African diaspora is essential to the growth and generational impact of Black and Brown people.  

“This was nothing short of history in the making,” Barbosa said. 

Melba Clayton of Ez4u2 Shop, LLC, said the mission was imperative for the survival of the Afro community and generations to come.  

“We must build a strong foundation that supports sustainability and growth for all of our people around the globe. Interconnection and collaboration are crucial to make this happen,”  said Clayton. 

Additionally, Shellie Stark of InHer Peace Beauty, a vegan and cruelty-free cosmetic line, also said the work they have done and continue to do moving forward is “laying the foundation for the next generation”.  

“I see it being so pivotal because not only are we laying the foundation for the next generation, we’re also being able to tap into the Afro-diaspora roots. It’s almost like a coming back home kind of situation,” Stark said. “We’re all coming together on one accord and for one purpose, and that’s to advance the Afro community. So, I see this not for just me, I see it for my children, I see it for my children’s children that they will now be able to have a connection to something greater than just being in the U.S.” 

In addition to Barbosa, Clayton and Stark, 17 other local business owners attended the trade mission to Cali. Their names and businesses are listed below:

Channing Baker – Evolve Contractors, LLC, Lindsay Barnette – Kultured Misfits, Ricardo Berrís – MI Group, Yaminah Childress – YANY Beauty, Melvin Coleman –  CEO Atlanta Black Chambers, Jon Exume – Technologists of Color, James Few – Chosen Few Media, Kris Hale – Dope Pieces, LLC, Natalie Jerome – Neighborhood Jewel Properties, L’Angela Lee – HoneySuckle Moon, LLC, Lauren Levins – Levins Realty/ L. Gabrielle Enterprises, Charla R. Mitchell – Charla Ruschelle, Akita Patterson – Experiential Marketing Development Network, Natasha Simmons – Yacht Club Access, Dawn Sizemore – PracEd Solutions, Kyra Solomon – Solomon and Solomon Construction, Jadaun Sweet – Take Heed Media, LLC The Visual Lyricst  

Looking Ahead to the Future 

Furthermore, Murillo said he hopes to see the 20 Atlanta entrepreneurs launch businesses in Colombia “without delay” after the trade mission trip. 

“Our nation stands as an exceptional business and investment destination, offering an array of opportunities. Our business landscapes are complementary, and alongside this, we share a profound sense of resilience and vibrant culture,” Murillo said. “The possibilities for collaboration are vast, and together, we can achieve remarkable outcomes. This firsthand experience has the potential to ignite innovative thinking and forge pathways for collaboration that extend beyond geographical boundaries.” 

Murillo gave The Atlanta Voice a message for Atlanta, the people of Cali, and the country of Colombia.  

“To Atlanta, Cali conveys a message of unity, collaboration, and shared progress,” Muriilo said. “Our partnership holds immense potential to drive innovation, uplift communities, and create a brighter future together. The exchange is not only about mutual growth but also about the enhancement of our cultural and economic ties.” 

Additionally, Murillo said to the people of Cali and Colombia, they extend a message of pride and optimism. 

“We celebrate our heritage and shared values, recognizing this collaboration’s vast business potential,” he said. “This endeavor opens doors to a new era of opportunities for Colombian businesses to expand their horizons and establish meaningful connections with the vibrant business community in Atlanta. As we embark on this journey, we anticipate the positive impact it will have on both regions, fostering economic development and cross-cultural enrichment.” 

The trade mission was only the beginning for Atlanta and Colombia, and there is a long road ahead to expand, however connecting with one’s roots and people who look like them only motivates and drives the mission.